Get your words in order – ASTC 2017
I’m attending the Technical Communicators Conference 2017, the annual conference of the Australian Society for Technical Communication (ASTC). This post is a live blog of a session at the conference. In other words, I’m writing as the presenter speaks. Any mistakes are mine, and all credit goes to the presenter.
Sonja McShane presented a session titled Get your words in order. She started by saying her presentation is kind of a list of pet peeves.
Sonja started out with a quotation about the order of adjectives in English. [Note from Sarah: You can find the quotation in the tweet from Matthew Anderson, as shown in this news item from the BBC.] Then she described best practices for the order of words in step-by-step instructions, in cross references, and in other sentence types that occur in technical documentation.
The presentation included tips on the following topics:
- Apostrophes – know the rules
- Punctuation of run-on sentences – ensure clarity and brevity
- Articles (the, a, an) – use whenever possible
- Pronouns – avoid whenever possible, and use the noun instead
- Unnecessary words – delete them
- Singular or plural – choose one and stick with it
- “Every day” versus “everyday” – the second is an adjective/advert
- Tense – use the present rather than the future tense
- Bulleted lists – keep them simple
This was a fun session, because Sonja’s examples generated plenty of animated discussion. As one of the attendees remarked, we could have gone on fixing the sentences all day. A member of the audience also brought up the distinction between common usage and prescriptive editing. Another audience member pointed out that in conversation and texting, your brain just sorts everything out and doesn’t bother about the irregularities. The difficulty comes when you’re in a more formal environment and need to write more concisely.